The Dollar Game Curriculum

The Dollar-Game simulates growth and decline in small & rural economies. The university extension curriculum uses a scenario game to teach concepts like value added, productivity, organic growth and export.

The game is a compelling and powerful way of introducing some regional economics concepts to its intended lay audience. I enjoyed playing the game and think this is a very effective teaching tool.Bruce Weber, Professor of Applied Economics and Director of the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University.

Concepts in the Dollar Game are well-founded and referenced; the progression of economic events heightens interest as the game is played and gives it more of a reality-based orientation.Marion Bentley, Director of Extension Business and Economic Development Services at Utah State University

The dollar Game curriculum provides a rapid succession of interactive scenarios to demonstrate how a local economy creates wealth. University of Idaho Extension

The Dollar-Game simulates growth and decline in small economies

Let’s Imagine ourselves on an island far, far away…
We are a small community cut off from the rest of the world. There are no planes, boats or drones to bring deliveries from Amazon. As a result, there are no tax-incentives to entice companies from elsewhere to “bring jobs”. There are also no tricks to attract more tourists and save the day for local retail. In other words: it is just us. So, how do we grow our economy?

An island economy simulates small economies and their growth and decline
An island economy simulates wealth creation in small economies

This is how the first round of The Dollar Game starts: lifting an isolated economy to the next level. And, yes, also exploring the question of when or whether you even need to. The first round is about learning core concepts like added value and the role of money in the economy. Subsequently, we explore the effect of entrepreneurship, innovation and wealth concentration in round 2 and 3. In the last three rounds we add the effects of imports, exports and distant ownership. This, then, transforms our island economy into a modern, connected economy.

Why learn Community Economics through a Game

Local economies are complex. They are the unique result of the merger of local talent, political will, technical skills and the natural & built environment. A community can unquestionably influence these factors, and nudge conditions to favor a durable economy. Whether a community will influence these factors, or knows how to influence them, is an entirely different matter. Politics often obstruct the dialogue necessary to understand the needs, especially in small or rural communities. It often is left versus right, Keynes versus Friedman. Sadly, the issues that a community needs to discuss are usually not political in nature, but merely nuts and bolts of a local economy. Why did the local economy shrink when the local mill sold — even though mill employment remained the same? What can we truly expect from a Walmart coming to town?

Playing out these questions in a scenario game allows community members to jointly build an understanding of economic drivers in a value-neutral manner by seeing cause and effect in action. It is then possible to leave politics aside and allows for an honest evaluation of recent economic development and effective strategies for the future.

dollar_game scenario game What is the Dollar Game?

The Dollar Game is a published[1]Lewin, Paul A., and Braak, Willem J. 2016. “The Dollar Game: Play Scenarios to Grow a Local Economy”. University of Idaho Extension. Available at [2]Braak, Willem J., and Paul A. Lewin. 2015. “The Dollar Game Curriculum: Inspiring Wealth Creation in Rural Communities.” The Journal of Extension (JOE). Available at: that grew from a university extension program. The Dollar-Game simulates small economies and their growth and decline. The curriculum is designed for educators and professionals in Community and Economic Development that work with community leaders, business leaders & local entrepreneurs. We found it to be equally effective with students, high school and up.

What players will gain

  • An understanding of economic insights that are very difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom setting
  • Internalize complex economic concepts like value-added and wealth concentration
  • Experience how import and export activities can fundamentally alter the local economy

Concepts in the six game rounds

The first 3 rounds explore the basic concepts like value added, productivity, wealth distribution and organic growth. They play in the setting of an “Island economy”. We recommend playing the first three rounds in one session.

  • Round 1 is a warm-up. It anchors the concept that “your spending is my income and my spending is your income”. The economy is in a state of equilibrium, and there is no incremental wealth creation (i.e. no economic growth).
  • Round 2 introduces the concepts of productivity and innovation. Wealth generation is all about the (overused and underutilized) concept of working smarter. When the farmer went from spade to plow, it freed up time to do other things—work additional land or have more family time. When the automatic washer replaced hours of washing by hand, it freed up time to do other things. Such as help the kids with homework. The dollar notes introduced through increased productivity have a different color. Consequently, the economic growth is visually identifiable the end of this round.
  • Round 3 introduces the concepts of wealth distribution and its effect on the overall local demand.

Round 4 transforms the island economy into a connected economy, trading with other regions.

  • Round 4 shows the risks and rewards of export growth (local growth generated by money from outside the local economy). A different color dollar notes will again identify value-added created by export. This emphasizes the rapid growth that can occur in export economies.

The last two rounds introduce more complex concepts and can be omitted depending audience or time constraints. Rounds 3 and 4 show that wealth-increase creates a ripple effect through the local economy. Rounds 5 and 6 show that distant ownership and imported labor can take a portion of that ripple effect away from the local economy, and, in a sense, “export” some of the wealth creation.

  • Round 5: one of the teams assumes the role of “distant owner”, while the other teams play regular communities. Added-value dollars from exports are now transferred to the distant owner, making the change in wealth distribution visible.
  • Round 6: Even though employees work in a community, they do not necessarily contribute to local wealth generation when they are not part of the local community.

Practical Application of Concepts

  • Discussions of historic developments in a local economy
  • Defining strategies for durable growth

WWhat does look like and how do I get it?

The curriculum is available for download at the University of Idaho’s website.

It includes a PDF document with facilitator and player instructions as well as printing templates for the game materials (contents pictured on the right or below).

The curriculum also includes a PowerPoint presentation that can be used or adapted by the facilitator.

You can email the authors for more information. We do love to hear your feedback from using the game!!

game materials included in the Dollar Game curriculum

References & further reading

References & further reading
1 Lewin, Paul A., and Braak, Willem J. 2016. “The Dollar Game: Play Scenarios to Grow a Local Economy”. University of Idaho Extension. Available at
2 Braak, Willem J., and Paul A. Lewin. 2015. “The Dollar Game Curriculum: Inspiring Wealth Creation in Rural Communities.” The Journal of Extension (JOE). Available at: